College matters. When students access postsecondary opportunities the entire community benefits. Research shows that attainment leads to higher earnings and greater economic stability and mobility, and helps build a robust workforce. Beyond the advantages that postsecondary attainment can provide individuals and families, overall attainment rate increases also have a significant positive impact on a state’s economy.
In Florida, there are stark racial disparities when it comes to postsecondary enrollment and success. Black Floridians are much less likely than individuals from other racial and ethnic groups to have completed a postsecondary education. Only 31 percent of Black Floridians, ages 25 to 64, hold an associates or bachelors degree, compared with 46% of white Floridians and 42 percent of all Floridians.
Helios Education Foundation aims to accelerate the pace of change in Florida by focusing on low-income and Black students in the state. These are the largest populations of students struggling the most and it starts well before postsecondary school. Among Black third graders in the state, only 37 percent are reading at grade level compared with 54 percent of students overall. Research shows that third grade reading is correlated with college success. Our strategy starts with early reading and extends to a focus on increasing college enrollment and the attainment of two- and four-year degrees.
What Black students in Florida say are barriers to postsecondary attainment:
In partnership with the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice we asked students about the postsecondary challenges they are facing, resulting in our newest research report outlining the barriers and priorities for Black students in Florida. The survey was designed to illuminate respondents' expectations, challenges, and obligations, both to identify barriers to enrollment and, relatedly, to identify opportunities to provide supportive interventions. The survey showed that:
- 60 percent of the Black applicants who responded were worried or stressed about paying for college;
- Fewer than half of Black applicants received support in high school to help them plan to meet their basic needs (food security, housing, mental health) in college; and 2 in 3 (66 percent) of Black students in college say they are having trouble meeting those basic needs.
- 30 percent of Black applicants doubted they would even be able to afford to attend at all. Additionally, the majority of Black applicants do not see financial aid, either loans or grants, as or likely options to help them pay for a Florida state college.
- Two-thirds felt worried or stressed about taking out student loans and,
- less than half believed that the federal Pell Grant would help them pay for college.
Solutions: How Florida can support Black students and raise attainment rates.
There are tangible efforts and actions that institutions, education organizations, community leaders, philanthropic organizations, student advocates, and other community-based entities should undertake. These include ways to alleviate students’ stress and uncertainty, promote greater financial security and increase college affordability, and better inform students of their options and how to access them, all in service of helping more Black students who aspire to a postsecondary education make the transition from high school, by applying, enrolling, matriculating, and ultimately completing college. Specific recommendations include:
- On-campus coaching, information and support;
- Highlighting affordability and opportunities at state and community colleges;
- Robust financial aid resources, connections to public benefits programs; and
- Mental health outreach to help students and their families navigate uncertainty, stress, and ongoing health challenges and access additional public or institutional resources, such as emergency financial aid or counseling.
Read the full findings from our research with the Hope Center here.